According to tradition, the people of the present Swazi nation migrated south
before the 16th century to what is now Mozambique. Following a series of conflicts
with people living in the area of modern Maputo, the Swazis settled in northern
Zululand in about 1750.
Unable to match the growing Zulu strength, the Swazis moved gradually northward
in the 1800s and established themselves in the area of modern or present Swaziland.
They consolidated their hold under several able leaders. The most important
was Mswati II, from whom the Swazis derive their name. Under his leadership in
the 1840s, the Swazis expanded their territory to the Northwest and stabilized
the southern frontier with the Zulus.
Contact with the British came early in Mswati's reign, when he asked British
authorities in South Africa for assistance against Zulu raids into Swaziland.
It also was during Mswati's reign that the first whites settled in the country.
Following Mswati's death, the Swazis reached agreements with British and South
African authorities over a range of issues, including independence, claims on
resources by Europeans, administrative authority, and security. South Africans
administered the Swazi interests from 1894 to 1902. In 1902 the British assumed
In 1921 Swaziland established its first legislative body--an advisory council
of elected European representatives mandated to advise the British high commissioner
on non-Swazi affairs.
In 1944, the high commissioner conceded that the council had no official status
and recognized the paramount chief, or king, as the native authority for the territory
to issue legally enforceable orders to the Swazis.
In 1921, after more than 20 years of rule by Queen Regent Lobatsibeni, Sobhuza
II became Ngwenyama (lion) or head of the Swazi nation. In the early years of
colonial rule, the British expected that Swaziland would eventually be incorporated
into South Africa.
After World War II, however, South Africa's intensification of racial discrimination
induced the United Kingdom to prepare Swaziland for independence. Political activity
intensified in the early 1960s. Several political parties were formed and jostled
for independence and economic development.
The largely urban parties had few ties to the rural areas, where the majority
of Swazis lived. The traditional Swazi leaders, including King Sobhuza II and
his Inner Council, formed the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM), a political group
that capitalized on its close identification with the Swazi way of life.
Responding to pressure for political change, the colonial government scheduled
an election in mid-1964 for the first legislative council in which the Swazis
would participate. In the election, the INM and four other parties, most having
more radical platforms, competed in the election. The INM won all 24 elective
Having solidified its political base, INM incorporated many demands of the
more radical parties, especially that of immediate independence. In 1966, the
U.K. Government agreed to discuss a new constitution. A constitutional committee
agreed on a constitutional monarchy for Swaziland, with self-government to follow
parliamentary elections in 1967.
Swaziland became independent on September 6, 1968. Swaziland's post-independence
elections were held in May 1972. The INM received close to 75% of the vote. The
Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) received slightly more than 20% of
the vote which gained the party three seats in parliament.
In response to the NNLC 's showing, King Sobhuza repealed the 1968 constitution
on April 12, 1973 and dissolved parliament. He assumed all powers of government
and prohibited all political activities and trade unions from operating.
He justified his actions as having removed alien and divisive political practices
incompatible with the Swazi way of life. In January 1979, a new parliament was
convened, chosen partly through indirect elections and partly through direct appointment
by the king.
King Sobhuza II died in August 1982, and Queen Regent Dzeliwe assumed the duties
of the head of state. In 1984, an internal dispute led to the replacement of the
prime minister and eventual replacement of Dzeliwe by a new Queen Regent Ntombi.
Ntombi's only child, Prince Makhosetive, was named heir to the Swazi throne.
Real power at this time was concentrated in the Liqoqo, a supreme traditional
advisory body that claimed to give binding advice to the Queen Regent. In October
1985, Queen Regent Ntombi demonstrated her power by dismissing the leading figures
of the Liqoqo.
Prince Makhosetive returned from school in England to ascend to the throne and
help end the continuing internal disputes. He was enthroned as Mswati III on April
25, 1986. Shortly afterwards he abolished the Liqoqo. In November 1987, a new
parliament was elected and a new cabinet appointed.
In 1988 and 1989, an underground political party, the Peoples' United Democratic
Movement (PUDEMO) criticized the king and his government, calling for democratic
In response to this political threat and to growing popular calls for greater
accountability within government, the king and the prime minister initiated an
ongoing national debate on the constitutional and political future of Swaziland.
This debate produced a handful of political reforms, approved by the king, including
direct and indirect voting, in the 1993 national elections.